After Mayor Turns Down Union’s $750 Settlement Offer, City Required To Pay $89,000

LAWRENCE, MA &#8211 The city is paying $89,100 to a police union that won a labor grievance it offered to settle beforehand for just $750 under a deal Mayor William Lantigua rejected.

Daniel Rivera, chairman of the City Council’s budget committee, said he “would not be shocked to find out that the mayor made an emotional decision and showed poor judgment in fighting a case he could not win and now the city has to pay. Unfortunately, he is the mayor and gets to decide what grievances to fight.”

The union representing police patrolmen filed the grievance when flagmen paid by the state were hired to direct traffic during the renovation of the Ravich Bridge over the Merrimack River, despite a clause in the union contract that gives detail work on public works projects in the city to police. The work began in November 2009 and lasted about a year.

When the grievance went nowhere at City Hall, the union asked an arbitrator to direct the city to put police on the job and to pay them for the lost work.

Shortly before the hearing, lawyers for the police union and the city reached a settlement that would have required the city to put cops on the bridge job, which by then was nearly complete, and on all future public works jobs in the city. The union also asked the city to pay its $750 share of hiring the arbitrator.

“It was an opportunity (to avoid) costing the city money,” Police Chief John Romero said about the proposed settlement, which he endorsed. “I felt we might very well lose this.”

Lantigua killed the settlement.

Arbitrator James Cooper found the city violated the union contract and ordered it to reimburse police for what they lost when the detail work went to the flagman, which the city calculated at $89,100. The City Council unanimously approved the payment Dec. 6, although the money will go to the union because it is impossible to tell which officers would have gotten the detail work.

“We had a deal until that morning,” said union president Alan Andrews, referring to the day the grievance went to the arbitrator. “We put some terms together the city indicated they were going to accept and at the last minute, for some reason — you’d have to ask the mayor — they chose to go forward with arbitration.”

Attempts to reach Lantigua for comment were unsuccessful.

“I think he said something like this: ‘(expletive deleted) you,’ union lawyer Matthew Dwyer said recently about Lantigua’s reaction to the proposed settlement. “You can dress that up anyway you want, but that’s essentially the message we got back. The result of the city’s refusal is that the taxpayers of the city of Lawrence are now forking over $89,100 that they would not have to fork over but for the mayor’s intransigence.”

Robert Nunes, the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, said he was not consulted on the proposed settlement.

Immediately after losing the arbitration, Lantigua appeared ready to engage the union in what could have been another costly fight, Andrews said. Lantigua attended the hearing and listened as Andrews, a detective, and Officer Wayne Taylor, whose job is to assign police to the special details, testified against the city.

“I was packing up my car and I saw the chief walking to his car,” Andrews said about an exchange he had with Romero in a parking lot outside City Hall a few minutes after the hearing. “He called me over. He said he’d been instructed to transfer me and Wayne out of our special assignment jobs back to patrol… Later that evening, they reversed the transfer order because it was obvious retaliation and they would have had bigger problems if they’d done something like that.”

Romero confirmed Andrews’ account.

In an email to Romero on Oct. 17, Lantigua directed he pay the settlement from the “Police Department’s wage line item.” Romero balked, saying it would force him to lay off two police officers. Nunes said the award will be paid from other accounts.

From The Eagle-Tribune.